Monday 29 March 2010

Grand Orange Lodge of Ireland statement on the visit of Pope Benedict XVI to the United Kingdom.

While we recognise the civil and religious rights of all, we cannot welcome or agree with the visit of the Pope to this country.

The Pope claims himself to be the vicar of Christ on earth, a title which assumes supreme and universal supremacy both in honour and jurisdiction over all - church, state, the world.  Any who would welcome him are in danger of appearing to acknowledge his primacy and universal supremacy in all of these matters.

We take this opportunity to call on all the people of our land to examine the Scriptures of the Old and New Testaments, especially on the matter of eternal salvation, and to see that the teaching of the Pope and the Roman Catholic Church is at total variance with the Biblical  message that salvation is by grace alone, through faith alone, in Christ alone.

We therefore call on all the citizens of the United Kingdom, and especially members of the Loyal Orange Institution, to demonstrate their opposition to the Pope's visit to England and Scotland, and to oppose any future invitation to visit Northern Ireland.  At the same time, we call on all members of the Loyal Orange Institution to refrain from any uncharitable acts or sentiments against our Roman Catholic fellow countrymen.  Furthermore, we urge all members of the Institution to examine their own relationship with the Lord Jesus Christ, to make sure that they have a saving faith in Him.

Finally, we encourage all our members to pray for a visitation to our land, not by the vicar of Christ, the holy father, as the Pope claims himself to be, but by the Spirit of Christ, the Holy Spirit, that both Protestant and Roman Catholic, as well as others from whatever background, may be brought to a saving knowledge of the Lord Jesus Christ, the only mediator between God and man.

Friday 5 March 2010

Speech on Britishness

Speech by Dr. David Hume MBE, Director of Services, Grand Orange Lodge, to the New Perspectives on Britishness seminar series, University of Huddersfield, March 4, 2010

In his book “The Angry Island. Hunting the English”, author A. A. Gill recounts how a taxi driver in South Africa asked him whether England was like Cape Town. He said no and the driver asked what England was like then. Gill found it difficult to provide a short and comprehensive answer: “What is England like? I dipped into the bran tub of trite and came up with hedges. Hedges and sheep. He snorted. We drove on in silence…It’s a question that’s been tugging my sleeve ever since. What is England like?”

In the same way it is hard to define what being British is all about. What does it mean to feel British? How does one define Britishness? Indeed, can one define Britishness?
These are telling questions. And there are no easy answers.

I come from the one part of the United Kingdom and the British Isles where, in our present generations, people have died because of their desire to remain British. Sometimes it seems to us that this fact is too uncomfortable for many of our fellow citizens elsewhere to recognise. To them the seemingly intractable religious problems make the Northern Ireland issue something alien and unsavory. In fact, however, the crux of the issue in Northern Ireland is simply – to use that word very loosely – about nationality. There are linkages between religion and national identity. But they are not overarching. To many people who are unionist, displaying their unionism has been and in some areas continues to be a dangerous matter. Their sense of loyalty and belonging often results in a response that they hold an outdated philosophy. It is curiously ironic that people so desirous of being British are seen by some commentators as almost embarrassing.

From the perspective of someone from Northern Ireland, being British is perhaps best seen as the top of an inverted pyramid. There are many layers to Britishness from my perspective.

There are around 40,000 male members of the Orange Institution in Northern Ireland, men who, along with their families, regard themselves as irredeemably British. I joined the Orange Order in 1986 to maintain a family tradition. In later years I understood that the Orange Order did not just exist in Magheramorne, or Larne, or Antrim, but also in England and Scotland. I have been privileged to address Orangemen in places such as Southampton, Liverpool, Grangemouth and Motherwell. Being an Orangeman is part of my British identity because it is about loyalty to the throne and constitution. It is very clearly a British Institution. It does not have a monopoly on Britishness, of course, but it is part of the rich tapestry of our culture and identity and its membership strength makes it well placed to promote British values.

But I am also from a Presbyterian background. My ancestors came from the Borders of Scotland, a rough area which created rough people. A traveler once riding through the Borders was said to be upset at the sight of so few churches and asked if there were no Christians there at all. The answer is said to have been “No, only Kerrs and Armstrongs.”  It says something of the region and its people in an earlier age. The Borders mentality of lack of deference to the authorities was matched in the gene mix in Ulster by that of the Scottish Covenanters, who were strong in their dissent from the religious establishment. These two outlooks helped to forge the Ulster Scots, who would go on to far greater things in America when they helped stage and win the American Revolution. This Presbyterian democratic outlook was highlighted not only in their church structure but also in society. At a militia muster prior to the Revolution one Ulster Scot recorded that the Captain raised his voice, the men went home. They had elected him captain; he was not entitled to boss them around. This democratic outlook led to Presbyterian involvement in the United Irishmen – they were the first republicans in Ireland, but share little with Gerry Adams and the Sinn Fein of modern times. Their involvement led to rebellion in 1798. This strong Scots tradition is part of my British identity.

I was involved some years ago in assisting a twinning process in my area, when we linked with a district in South Carolina, one of the heartlands of the Ulster settlement of the 18th century. An annual festival is held in the town and I recall the pride at seeing the Ulster flag among those displayed in the football arena, the same sense when I see Northern Ireland parade through at the opening of the Commonwealth Games. I regard calls for an all-Ireland soccer team as just daft, because it would mean nothing to my sense of identity or culture. Northern Ireland, despite the small numerical pool from which it can draw its team and the many defeats we endure, remains the smallest country to have qualified for more than one World Cup, and the smallest country to have reached the World Cup quarter-finals. 1966 may mean little to us in a soccer context but defeating Spain 1-0 in 1982 counts for a lot – even 28 years on. To me this sense is another layer of Britishness. I see myself as an Ulsterman; my symbols are the Red Hand and the Northern Ireland flag. That is my regional identity, and it is part of British identity.

As part of the preparation to come here to deliver this perspective, I asked a panel who are normally asked to respond to questions for the Orange Order’s newspaper to help out. Hard on the heels of deciding by 89% to 11% that Gordon Brown will probably not be prime minister after the next election, we asked them to define what it meant for them to be British. The responses included the following from Cork in the Irish Republic;

Yes, I do indeed feel as much British as I do Irish. I believe Britishness in itself to be something very organic meaning that whatever the political situation - in this case no longer being considered legally British - what we are is what we are. It can't be taken away. I feel British because it’s my cultural identity, my cultural heritage and it's who I am. I don't feel Irish in the same way republicans and nationalists do. And while Irishness has come to represent a sort of exclusivity, strictly defined, Britishness is an identity that sits firmly on top of our regional identities - it represents choice and freedom whilst still giving us an identity that binds people together who share a history and culture. I think thats what I see as the definition of Britishness - unity. If you ever lived abroad for any length of time like me (8 years in Sweden) you see people from all over these islands naturally find themselves draw to each other. Some might say that it's just about language but I never saw it like that because despite the small cultural and even political opinions there was a bond there that was far beyond just the English language. Odd in a way that when people go abroad they suddenly realise how much we have in common.

Others gave reasons for a sense of Britishness which included in ranking order;
Military service and connections (7)
The Royal Family (7)
Shared history and culture (3)
Shared values and freedoms (3)
Family ties across UK (2)

Some of the comments which were made included:

Family members in other part of the UK namely Scotland, and England....we are a natural part of the British family.   

The service and sacrifice of thousands of our forefathers during two World Wars and theatres of war before and after these has cemented our Britishness.

My father served in the Royal Ulster Constabulary for 31 years during the troubles and I could give at least three occasions when he saved lives when the IRA was trying to rip Northern Ireland away from the UK.

I have always been brought up to be proud of my country and its rich British culture, proud of our Royal Family and proud of the fact that Northern Ireland is part of the UK.

I was brought up from my youth just to feel British as my parents felt

The freedom to live in a country where democracy should be a priority and have civil and religious liberty for all

My family has always had links to the British Army with members serving in the Parachute Regiment, Irish Guards, UDR and the Royal Ulster Rifles. Their service history is the history of the British nation with service in Northern Ireland, Germany, India, Egypt and Palestine.
My culture is British. I watch and played football and rugby when I was younger not GAA. I speak English and not Irish. I am a member of the Loyal Orders with our parades and cultural expressions promoting the British identity.

My Loyalty is to Her Majesty the Queen and my parliament is Westminster both with a constitution that I can identify with...As I was growing up my family holidays were in Scotland, England or Northern Ireland…The symbols which I identify with are those of British identity. The flag of my country with a Crown on it, the Union flag showing the uniting of all parts of our Nation…”

Values:  Democracy, free speech, fair play, tolerance, pride”
I sincerely believe in and am proud of Britain's record of spreading Democracy throughout the World to the benefit of millions of citizens therein.”

"I share and espouse British values and therefore appreciate the British way of life. I have a sense of belonging within the United Kingdom and throughout the Commonwealth. British flags and emblems are visible signs and reminders to me of what it is to be British."

And, not least, from Dublin in Irish Republic, where members of the Orange Order retain a cultural but not political sense of Britishness;
“We may not be politically linked to the UK anymore but our cultural and traditional links are. We do not agree with the Republican ethos we have a high regard for the Queen, but as Christian/social democrats we have to accept the political system we find ourselves in…”

These views help to highlight the different layers which there are to a sense of Britishness within the Orange Order in Ireland. The University of Liverpool/Huddersfield survey in 2008 helped to provide a picture of the organisation. It is an organisation which describes itself as majority working class but which has many professionals within its ranks. How regional is it and how British is it? The daily paper may provide a clue; 35% of the members surveyed read Northern Ireland daily papers and 37% national dailies. Members were asked if the national parties should contest elections in Northern Ireland and 46.5% supported the proposition while 28% did not.

The crucial question of identity saw 63% describe themselves as British, and 11% each prefer the identity Northern Irish or Ulster. The most important aspect of their identity for those surveyed was the Crown (75%) with faith coming in a poor second at 15%. These answers give some idea of the key elements that people associate with being British, the Royal Family clearly very high among them.

Visits by members of the Royal Family to Northern Ireland have often been viewed by unionists as a sign that, whatever political arrangements governments might wish, the monarch still has affection for them. In his 1994 book The Edge of the Union, author Steve Bruce selected a telling title which not only expressed the sense of geographical isolation from the rest of the United Kingdom of Northern Ireland, but also the fact that politically those who support the Union there see themselves as a beleaguered people. Margaret Thatcher once famously remarked that Northern Ireland was as British as Finchley, but the trend of her own and successive governments to push a political agenda for an Irish dimension have left many British people in Northern Ireland feeling that there is a gap between the sound bite and the political reality. Finchley was her constituency, of course, resplendent in a middle-class London suburban image. Northern Ireland is very different from Finchley. That both are British perhaps highlights the variety of Britishness which exists.

After the Anglo Irish Agreement in 1985 there was a campaign for mainland political parties to organise in Northern Ireland, and the Campaign for Equal Citizenship contested, to little effect, an election in Finchley. The Conservative Party, in aligning itself with the Ulster Unionist Party, has organised in Northern Ireland but, perhaps ironically, the central issue of the union may militate against electorate support for the national parties in Ulster seats; there is a sense of mistrust of the national parties which may be based on the view that those parties do not understand the nuances of Northern Ireland and it is best to trust the established unionist parties. This sense is mirrored in the fact that Northern Ireland is a place apart to some extent and that, geographically on the edge of the Union, it is also the smallest of the constituent populations of the United Kingdom. Unionists have listened during the period of the Troubles to calls from people they would regard as their fellow British citizens that it was time to pull out of Northern Ireland; the cost was too high.

The truth is that, in the context of being British, Northern Ireland is the only place where people have died in such numbers in order to remain British since the Second World War. The Orange Order has had around 335 members murdered during the Troubles – a very British term for a horrific terrorist war. Some 3,600 people in total died during a terrorist campaign which had at its centre the core issue of nationality. The quite astonishing thing is that so many people, in the midst of such a terror campaign, were prepared to publicly be identified as being British. In some cases it cost them dearly. Our view is that, aside from our Orange brethren and their families and some other isolated political supporters in England and Scotland, few people in the rest of the United Kingdom either understand or appreciate the price we have paid to be British.

Some commentators of the Stormont years from 1920 to 1969 have suggested that, having prevented incorporation into a United Ireland, unionists sought to become more British than anyone else. It is a common complaint of a certain generation of Ulster people that they were never taught their own history in school, but instead were well versed in Nelson and Trafalgar, the British monarchs and so on. This was undoubtedly the situation which developed. Yet within Northern Ireland is an Ulster-British cultural community, with several sub strands, and a rich history of its own. Those sub strands do not, however, detract from it being British, which was a point perhaps missed by unionist politicians and leaders of a certain generation.

I have an academic and perhaps a somewhat anorak interest in observing the flags which appear in the summers in unionist areas of Northern Ireland. In my own housing development, I can see Union flags, Ulster Flags, Ulster Scots flags and Orange Standard flags. In the nearby town I see the same and last year also noted an Australian flag flying from one house. These flags are put out to symbolise, ultimately, a sense of being British. But it is the variety which interests me. The Union Flag, of course, speaks for itself. It is a clear message. The Northern Ireland, or Ulster Flag, highlights perhaps a sense of greater pride in being regional. The Orange Flag symbolises the household has an Orangeman or woman. The different flags underline for me that there are different perspectives on our Britishness. For us the summer season – sometimes referred to in media shorthand as the marching season – provides an opportunity to show that we are British. The cultural and community rituals associated with that period involve everyone from primary school age to pensioners. The fact that there is opposition in some areas to parades, that there are tricolour flags supporting the republican and nationalist tradition, merely serve to remind us all that our British identity is not a given, that there is a sizeable minority which does not subscribe to our values.  In recent times in Northern Ireland efforts to prevent symbols of Britishness being displayed in local government buildings and courthouses have highlighted for people that there is a cultural war, whether directly or for reasons of political correctness, being mounted against such identity. There have been reactions against this. In Larne in County Antrim, when the local council decided to cease a practice of putting red, white and blue bunting through the town centre to mark the July anniversary, locals put up the bunting themselves and allowed it to remain not for the two weeks which have been the case previously but all summer long and until the end of September. The symbolism of both situations was clear.

The response of political unionism in recent years also tells us something about varieties of Britishness which exist within Northern Ireland. Jennifer Todd, examining unionism and Loyalism some years ago suggested that there were two main strands of political Britishness in Northern Ireland. The first was Ulster Unionism, which reflected more among the middle class and expressed itself in support for the Ulster Unionist Party. Those who belonged to this group were more likely to travel to the rest of the UK regularly, to support sports such as rugby, to have children at university in England or Scotland and to belong to civic British groups such as Rotary Clubs, and to have business links on the mainland, she suggested. Those who were Ulster loyalists were more apt to support the Democratic Unionist Party, to have little regular contact with mainland GB, to be working-class in origin, and to have children studying at university in Northern Ireland or not in third level education at all. Her definition has perhaps been moved on a bit by more recent political developments, but it does highlight key differences. The one unifying factor, of course, is that both these large political groups had an overarching sense that they were British. Todd suggested that for the Ulster Unionists the Union was an end in itself, but for the Ulster Loyalists the Union was the means to an end. Some political commentators and observers have found the Ulster British community hard to fathom. While proclaiming loyalty to the Queen, they have been prepared to bring down political arrangements established by Her ministers on occasion. David W. Millar declared them to be Queen’s Rebels. It is an interesting term.

It is a term which underlines one of the strands of Britishness which is possibly quite unique to Northern Ireland. In 2012 unionists in Ulster will mark the centenary of the Ulster Covenant, a document signed with considerable ceremony with the intention of preserving Northern Ireland’s place within the Union at that time. This extraordinary document and political response during the Third Home Rule Bill drew on a much older legacy, when the Scots Covenanters also made a strong political stand and compelled the monarch of the day, Charles I, to side with them, albeit for a time. The idea of a covenant between the people and the ruler has and had wider ramifications. Religiously, it stemmed from the idea that the King could not be the head of the Church since this position was reserved for Christ alone. The legacy of such debate remains with us today. If the monarch chooses to attend the General Assembly of the Church of Scotland it is my understanding that she should first ask permission as she does not enter by right or virtue of being head of the Kirk. The greater legacy of course relates to the idea of a social contract, and was very relevant at the time of James II. In the 21st century we still consider this dissent from authority to be fully justified, perhaps indeed democratically essential. There is almost an inbuilt distrust of those in authority, perhaps psychologically stemming from the Borderers or the Killing Times for the Covenanters in Scotland and Ulster.

People who do not understand the nuances of Northern Ireland and its majority unionist population might do well to consider the statement of Vron Ware, who says that “Britain is a composite nation, a patchwork of anomalies, mistakes and inconsistencies. It has a standing army but not a football team. It has an anthem, a flag and a queen, but there is no patron saint of the United Kingdom and no founding date of an original constitution to be celebrated with even token familiarity…” There are many layers to and of Britishness.

I am Director of Services of the Grand Orange Lodge of Ireland, which is the largest Protestant fraternity in Ireland and, in the wider context, the United Kingdom. It is a British Institution, themes of loyalty and British identity inherent within its composition, including among those within it who live in the Irish Republic, but still see the Order as a means of highlighting the British identity of their families. The Orange Order is a sectional organisation. You have to be a Protestant to belong. The organisation is pledged to a Protestant throne, a historical legacy of the contribution of William III and the actions of James II in the 17th century. The Orange Order, whatever else may be said of it, is deeply loyal to the United Kingdom, whether its members are in Belfast, Glasgow, London or Manchester. While it is sometimes seen as an historical anachronism with its parades featuring dark suited men, some wearing bowler hats, this is perhaps one of the aspects of its being which merely marks it out as British. For surely being British carries with it the possibility of a little eccentricity? The Belfast socialist, poet and playwright, and Independent Orangeman (a story in itself) Thomas Carnduff, wrote of how on the Twelfth of July loyalist Belfast was ablaze with the colour of Orange celebrations. “As a boy I loved colour. The Orange arches I helped to erect every July anniversary were more than mere religious emblems. They were, and are still, the symbol of artistry in the people.” In the Northern Ireland context, the way in which someone from Sussex may view our celebrations for the victory of William III and Mary II is possibly akin to how we view Morris Dancing on the village greens of England. They are part of the layers of cultural identity and expression which are British.

To an observer and to many people within Northern Ireland themselves, there is a difficult contradiction in recalling that while the Orange Order was founded in 1795 and allied itself with the authorities during the 1798 Rebellion, Antrim and Down Presbyterians rebelled against the Crown and had been, indeed, the first republicans in Ireland. After the rebellion the Ulster Scots poet James Campbell could reflect that “In ninety eight we armed again/to right some things that we thought wrong/we got sae little for our pains/it’s not worth mindin’ in a song” and the Act of Union came to be strongly defended by the people he was alluding to. In 1914 descendants of the Presbyterian United Irishmen landed rifles and ammunition at Larne Harbour with the aim of defending themselves against Home Rule. It was a complete historical turnaround. In 1912 the Anglican father of the poet Louis MacNeice, preaching at an Ulster Day service in Carrickfergus, could reflect that while the Roman Catholic population was disaffected about being governed from London, this had previously been the case for Presbyterians, who had come to strongly support Union. This complexity is another layer of Britishness, perhaps highlighting the success of British identity amidst other senses of cultural belonging.

All of this requires an understanding if one is to make any sense of the course of Irish history and why we are British today.

I use the term advisedly “why we are British” rather than “why we see ourselves as British” because I think there is an important and significant distinction. In our context, for example, republicanism would argue that the unionist/British population of Northern Ireland is really Irish and is misguided in considering itself British. I engage with schools and community groups from the nationalist community in my role within the Orange Order. Some weeks back I had a very stimulating debate with a nationalist woman who said that I was Irish, whether I liked it or not. In as gentle a way as possible, I asked her how she could possibly make me feel Irish when I did not regard myself that way. I have no sense of being Irish, while respecting Irish history, tradition and culture. I view it as you would know about and respect your neighbour, but that knowledge and respect does not make me a member of the family.

Being British rather than seeing ourselves as British is an important point not just for unionists in Northern Ireland.

It is an important point in the context of Britishness. Being British is not about being white. It is not about being Protestant. It is not even about where you are born. It is, I would assert, about how you feel. In Scotland on average about one-third of people are believed, through opinions expressed in various polls, to support the concept of independence. But two-thirds do not support it. Opinion polls between 1990 and 2001 show a decline in support for independence from 34% to 29% and a growth in support for devolution from 44% to 57% (Budge et al, “The New British Politics”, Longman, 2004). This suggests a strong sense of region, but equally an overarching sense of being part of the British nation. To put it as Vron Ware does, “Britain may be a country, but it is not really a place.”

The strong sense of linkage between Ulster and Scotland comes across very clearly in July each year, when bands and Orange lodges and members transfer from one area to another to take part in parades. This movement of people suggests an internal mobility within the nation which in more permanent form helps to solidify a sense of Britishness. One of the concerns in Northern Ireland has been the ‘brain drain’ to universities in England and Scotland, a trend which has been most prevalent among young Protestants. The concern that these students find jobs, partners and settle down on the mainland has a correlation, however, in that they bring a new perspective to those they encounter about their part of the UK. I found in 2008 when speaking at an Orange celebration in Grangemouth an interesting fact in that shale miners from County Antrim had emigrated to Broxburn in the 19th century and that this had been important in the strengthening of the Orange tradition in that part of Scotland. The movement of people may not be as dramatic or as concentrated in modern times, but it is nevertheless there. Families in Ulster have links with Scotland, England and Wales, and to us that is part of our integration and our Britishness.

Sometimes unionists in Northern Ireland have been criticised for not so much knowing what they supported as what they were against. It is perhaps a wider criticism in the context of being British. To return to the earlier questions I posed: What does it mean to feel British? How does one define Britishness? It is not a prescriptive matter, for we are a multicultural nation and our culture is changing. But there are some common trends which perhaps help to define us and how we think.

Storry and Childs in British Cultural Identities cite a figure of 70% of us preferring to live as subjects under a monarch rather than as citizens in a Republic. The Royal Family is a figurehead institution to a sense of being British, it would seem.

Faith is also an important factor in what it means to be British. 71.6% of the UK population says it is Christian, although many may never darken the door of a church. While church attendances continue to drop, there is a sort of cultural Christianity which means that more people watch Songs of Praise on TV than Match of the Day. In Northern Ireland, where church attendance far exceeds that in the rest of the UK, this is an important factor. Being British is not only about being from a Christian background, of course. But I am reminded of a remark by a Canadian historian, Gary Dennis, who noted that Orange Halls in his county of Ontario had mostly closed down and lodges no longer existed. He said that the ethos of the Orange Order and its values remained, however, because it had entered into the psyche of the people. In the same way Christian moral values are part of what being British entails: moral values which are often shared with other faiths. In this context it is interesting to note that the majority of the UK’s 1.2 million Muslims were born here and that many of their children see themselves as British Muslims rather than Asians or Black Britons, according to Storry and Childs. This is, amidst all attempts to see or seek division, an important reminder.

The Welsh poet R. S. Thomas says “Britishness is a mask. Beneath it there is only one nation, England.” The perspective is a valid one. Of the population of the UK, 49.7 million live in England. Scotland is the next largest component with 5.1 million, then Wales with 2.9 million and lastly Northern Ireland with 1.6 million (which is partly why we do not make the World Cup quarter finals very often). Not surprisingly, the larger partner has more clout. Sometimes we get the feeling that for English people the term Britishness is taken to mean them. Because our sterling banknotes were not accepted as legal tender in England we could be forgiven for having a chip on our shoulder about at what we see as ignorance at best. It is embarrassing to have no other notes than Northern Ireland banknotes and be at the head of a queue where the word sterling has no currency. There has, in the modern UK, to be a greater sense in England in particular that we are all part of the nation, that we are all as British as Finchley. That is very important if the regions are to be encouraged in their sense of belonging and not pushed in other political directions.

The recent television series Small Island, based on the book of the same name, was striking. It highlighted the experience of the Jamaican community who came to England during and after wartime. The term Small Island is highly symbolic. We British are island peoples. There are characteristics which islanders have which are different than others. We in the British Isles were joined by other communities, some of whom like the Jamaicans were from islands. We have been described as an island race, and however outdated in modern times that might be, the ethos and culture of an island race with a very different history is part of what we are now. We are connected to Europe physically now through a channel tunnel, but it is a recent innovation and, as we know, it does not always work. It is rather amusing that a sample question from the British Citizenship test has the question “What was the reason behind the formation of the European Union?” and provides possible answers including ‘to make things difficult for non-members’ and ‘to give jobs to bureaucrats’. 

In modern Britain, of course, we have many people from the Commonwealth, from Europe and elsewhere, and they too are part of our identity and culture now. Newer arrivals will also assimilate into a wider sense of Britishness. Such processes can challenge the existing community. The challenge is how to ensure that those who want to be here and want to be British are encouraged. Irish nationalists of a certain genre look to the idea of the pure unspoilt Irish race without recourse to the fact that Ireland, like Britain, has been the stopping off point for waves of emigrants from elsewhere. The Ulster 20th century poet John Hewitt has a fantastic poem which sums this up in the Protestant Plantation context, declaring that “Once alien here, my fathers built their house/claimed, drained, and gave the land the shapes of use.” There are many who follow such a course in modern times.

Ultimately the question of Britishness comes down to the simple oath of allegiance at the Welcoming Ceremony for new British citizens, who pledge that “I will give my loyalty to the United Kingdom and respect its rights and freedoms. I will uphold its democratic values. I will observe its laws faithfully and fulfill my duties and obligations as a British citizen.”

The Welcoming Ceremony is presumably intended as something of a celebration for new citizens. We should be celebrating Britishness, something which Gordon Brown suggested before he was Prime Minister but has been rather less vocal about in recent years. Being British is about pluralism. This means that the Orange Order can witness for its heritage and faith, while appreciating and respecting that others can do likewise. I believe that it is the British way. Gordon Brown was right when he called for a strong United Kingdom and said “It is right to be explicit about what we, the British people, share in common and the patriotic vision for our country’s future.” It is important that a sense of Britishness is not left carelessly lying on the political fringes of the nation. The Orange Order is well placed to ensure that we do not lose our sense of British identity across the Kingdom and that that sense of identity is brought into the mainstream of our communities and not abandoned to others on the fringes. We are an organisation which is unashamedly Protestant but which also espouses civil and religious liberty for all. If there is a contradiction in this it may be an essentially British one. You can be a Protestant, Roman Catholic, Jew, Muslim or Hindu. And you can be British. You can be white, coloured, born here or born elsewhere. And you can be British. “Britain maybe a country, but it is not really a place”. You can be from Wessex, Cornwall, Scotland, Wales, England or Northern Ireland.

And, even on the edge of the union, you can be British if you want to be. Britain does not choose you. You have to make the choice. It’s a good choice to make.

Thursday 4 March 2010

Unionists remain British by conviction, Orange Order official tells Huddersfield audience.

POLITICAL argument will not persuade unionists in Northern Ireland that they have a future in an Irish nation, a senior Orange Order official has told an audience of academics in Huddersfield today, March 4, 2010.

Dr. David Hume, the Orange Order’s Director of Services, said that nationalists in Northern Ireland could not convince people like him that they were Irish.

But he said that while he had no sense of being Irish, he respected Irish history, tradition and culture.

“I know and respect it as a person would know and respect their next door neighbour, but that knowledge and respect does not make me a member of the family,” he told a seminar at the University of Huddersfield this evening.

He cited members of the Orange Order in the Irish Republic - who said that while they were not politically or legally British, they felt culturally British - as an example of the layers of Britishness which prevail in different parts of the British Isles.

The Orange Order’s Director of Services was addressing the sixth in a series of interdisciplinary seminars on new perspectives of Britishness.

Dr. Hume’s speech followed on from previous speakers including Jake Bowers (a Romani journalist who talked about Roma, Gypsies, Travellers and Britishness); Mark Perryman (who addressed civic Englishness); Chris Harvie MSP; Adam Price MP; Alan Powers (an expert on British art, design and architecture); Bernadine Evaristo and Paul Burston (both writers).

Dr. Hume said that being British was not something defined by faith, colour or background, and that pluralism was part of the process by which Britain defined itself. The arrival of new peoples in the United Kingdom was part of the process of history which had been happening for centuries, but there was a challenge to ensure that new communities were assimilated and respected.

He cautioned that no one should confuse being British with being English, in that regional culture and identity should be encouraged; “There has, in the modern UK, to be a greater sense in England in particular that we are all part of the nation, we are all as British as Finchley. That is very important if the regions are to be encouraged in their sense of belonging and not pushed in other political directions,” he said.

Dr. Hume said that Northern Ireland was the only part of the United Kingdom where, in recent decades, people had died in order to remain British, citing the loss of life in the Troubles and the losses sustained by the Orange Order, now put at 335 members.

He said that the Orange Order, having sustained the loss of so many, remained proud to be British and was well placed to encourage British values and pride.

“We are an organisation which is unashamedly Protestant but which also espouses civil and religious liberty for all,” he said.

“The Orange Order is well placed to ensure that we do not lose our sense of British identity across the Kingdom and that that sense of identity is brought into the mainstream of our communities and not abandoned to others. It is important that a sense of Britishness is not left carelessly lying on the political fringes of the nation,” he said.

Among those present at the speech was an invited audience of students, academics and representatives from the public, including members of the local Orange lodge in Manchester.